Friends out of the Mammon of Unrighteousness (Luke 16:9)

“And I say to you, make for yourselves intimate friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness, in order that when it may fail, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles.”

(Luke 16:9)

 

We should perhaps begin by asking ourselves the question as to what Jesus means by speaking of “eternal tabernacles” or “eternal dwellings.”  This is a phrase that is unique to the New Testament and to the Greek translation of the Old Testament as well.  We do know, though, that the term aijw/nioß (aionios), which we translate as “eternal” is normally used in terms of speaking of the afterlife—though it is used to speak in terms of both heaven and hell (though it is most often used of heaven).  We also know that the term skhnh/ (skana), translated here as “tabernacle,” can refer to any kind of temporary shelter or dwelling, but is the same term that is used to translate the Hebrew word !K’v.mi (mishkan), or “Tabernacle.”  Thus, in certain contexts, the term skhnh/ (skana) carries with it important Old Testament theological significance.  The Tabernacle, of course, being where God dwelt in his presence, it seems reasonable, then, when Jesus talks of eternal Tabernacles, he is talking about eternal life in heaven or at least eternal life with God (as this is something that begins in this life given that God dwells in the tabernacle of the believer through his Holy Spirit).  This is also consistent with the contrast that we saw in the previous verses between the sons of light and the sons of this age—“this age” being contrasted with “eternity.”  Beloved, this age will pass away, but eternity will go on forever.

I guess the next logical question is to ask what is the “mammon of unrighteousness” and how does one use such a thing to make friends.  The first thing that we should note it the nature of the friendships that are being spoken of.  The term that Jesus employs is fi/loß (philos), which reflects an intimate friendship or a dear friend.  This is not a casual relationship, but a relationship that has been strengthened by sharing hardships as well as good times.  It is not a friendship that will easily fall away.

In terms of “mammon,” there is quite a bit of discussion.  The simplest answer to this question is to see it as a personification of wealth as in Matthew 6:24.  Some scholars have suggested that the term mamwnavß (mamonas), might be derived from the Hiphil participle of the Hebrew verb !mea’ (amen), which would be spelled !ymia]m; (maamin).  In Hebrew, the Hiphil form is a causative tense and a participle, as in English, can be used substantively as a noun (the runner).  In layman’s terms, to use this verb in such a way can convey the idea of something that causes you to place your trust (the meaning of !mea’) in it rather than in God.  And indeed, wealth is a prime culprit, if it is not the primary culprit, of doing just that.  Yet, let us not limit our definition to wealth, but let us include all things that can turn the heart of man away from trusting in God.  It can reflect prestige, fame, possessions, etc…  Anything that you put your trust in apart from God becomes mammon, and in the context of the passage, these worldly things are unrighteous as well as they are not the things of God.

The simple answer, then, to our question, is that this steward used the worldly wealth to make friends or to become favored by those of this world—including his master.  Now, there is more to the question, but it would behoove us to put the final puzzle pieces in place before we began to assemble them to draw a conclusion.  Take, though, this simple principle.  God has given us worldly wealth for a reason and for a purpose, and that purpose is so that we might be a blessing to the world around us.  Yet, we are called to be a blessing to the world around us not just so that we will have lots of people like us, but so that we will draw lots of people to Christ.  Indeed, as from God’s hand comes all good things, are we not just stewards of God’s possessions?  Are we not stewards of the created order itself?  If the intention of our stewardship is to use these worldly things to draw others to faith in Jesus Christ, how faithful are we being in the task to which we have been called?  How consistently are we either faithful or unfaithful with the things that God has given us?

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